To learn more about this case, I strongly recommend Adam Cohen's book Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck https://amzn.to/2tY5Ffa
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In episode 35 of Supreme Court Briefs, the state of Virginia passes a law saying that stupid or immoral people are not allowed to have kids and must be sterilized. A woman named Carrie Buck fights back. Yes, this all actually happened.
Produced by Matt Beat. All images and video used under fair use, original content, or found in the public domain. Music by Jermaine Hysten.
Taber Andrew Bain
Susan in Cville
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Other sources used:
Cohen, Adam (2016). Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. New York, New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1594204180.
Madison Heights, Virginia
September 10, 1924
Eugenics doctor Albert Sidney Priddy, the dude in charge of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, requests to sterilize 18-year old patient Carrie Buck. According to Dr. Priddy, Buck had the mental age of a 9-year old, and argued that if she was allowed to have children, this would be dangerous for society. So just so we are clear here, he wanted to force her to go through a procedure so that she could never have kids because of her genetics.
Wait, hold up. Let’s go back a bit, because this story is even more messed up than this. So Carrie Buck was the daughter of Emma Buck, who previously was taken away by the state from Carrie and her siblings when Carrie was a kid. Virginia confined Emma to-you guessed it-the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded for prostitution, immorality...oh and having syphilis. So Carrie grew up with foster parents, who treated her like a slave. How did Carrie also end up at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded? Her foster parents sent her there for hopelessly bad behavior, sleeping around, and “feeblemindedness.” I’m not joking. Also, they sent her there apparently as a result of being raped by her foster mother’s nephew. Again, I am not joking. Since Carrie Buck was declared mentally incompetent to raise her child, her now former foster parents ended up adopting the baby. At 7 months old, that baby, whose name was Vivian, would also be declared “feeble-minded.”
So anyway, back to Dr. Priddy trying to sterilize Carrie. He first wanted to make sure it was legal. I mean, the state had passed a law called the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924, which allowed doctors to forcibly sterilize patients who supposedly had genetic traits that would be damaging to society if passed on to the next generation. However, the law had yet to be tested in the courts. So the board of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded got it to happen. After ordering Buck sterilized, the board appointed her a random dude named Robert Shelton to be her guardian. He was the guardian of several of the institution’s patients and got paid for doing it, by the way. Buck’s lawyer was a dude named Irving Whitehead, who was a eugenics fan who wanted the sterilization law. Oh, and apparently he was also on the board, helping request Buck’s sterilization. In fact, he was good friends with Albert Priddy and Aubrey Strode, who represented Priddy in court. There’s no conflict of interest there! Whitehead made no effort to challenge the accusations that Buck was feeble minded, of course.
Shelton appealed the sterilization to the Circuit Court of Amherst County, who agreed the sterilization should take place. Shelton appealed again to the Supreme Court of Virginia, who also agreed it should take place. So one more appeal to the Supreme Court. By this time, Priddy had died and his successor, Dr. John Bell, now represented the Virginia Colony.